JC Studies Blog

Updated: Dec 18, 2020

Series: Abraham, Isaac, and El Shaddai


In Jewish tradition, Genesis 22 presents the last of ten tests for Abraham, the first one being when he was told to leave his country, his kin, and his father's house in chapter 12. Now he faces his greatest test.


Why does God still need to test him at this point? Hasn't Abraham proved his dedication, his loyalty? Yes, in a sense, but not in an unconditional way. He was obeying God through all those tests because God was going to bless him: make him wealthy, prosperous, and the father of many nations. This test will decisively show if Abraham is willing to unconditionally and wholeheartedly serve and obey for God's sake.


God elected Abraham by his grace, but is he worthy to be the father of the faithful?

"After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, 'Abraham!' And he said, 'Here I am.'" Here I am in the text is actually only one Hebrew word, hineni. It is the only word Abraham speaks to God throughout this whole narrative. He says it twice, in verse one and again in his response to the angel in verse eleven.

Hineni is a response of humility, responsiveness, and readiness to obey. It is the reply of the devout.


Regarding Abraham's response, many through the centuries have wondered why he didn't challenge God, push back against this seemingly immoral act. After all, he was not a man lacking in courage. Do you remember the story of Sodom? There Abraham takes God on, so to speak. No, he is not a man reluctant to challenge El Shaddai.


In Genesis 22, God engages Abraham, but this time he is noticeably and utterly silent. In his first call, he was asked to leave his past. Now he is being asked to forsake his future. This means giving up the promised son, the one through whom the blessing of God will come to the nations. And the only thing we hear from our father Abraham is "here I am" (hineni).


"Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go [...]." The Hebrew here reveals that God is entreating Abraham; his direction comes with regard to his concerns. He is saying, "Abraham, take your son, please, and go to the place I will show you."


The sages point out that Abraham is entirely a free agent; he does not have to comply. There is no threat of punishment. God's grace has already elected Abraham—the promises have been uttered, the covenant is given. What we see is God imploring him, "Abraham, please take this test."


He then uses the very words he used in Genesis 12:1, "get yourself up and go forth (lekh lekha)." This is just one of many parallels between Abraham's first and last test. Both are about the blessing of obedience, both include family, both require radical reliance, in both Abraham builds an altar, and, God promises him posterity and prosperity.

To get the most from Genesis 22, you need to read it in the light of chapter 12.


"[...] go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you." Moriah is an important idea for biblical authors. There are at least three intriguing interpretations that have been offered up for the meaning of the word. Each, in their way, adds something insightful to ponder for those immersed in the narrative.

  • The first idea is that Moriah comes from the Hebrew word to see (ra'ah). It is a play on words, "the place I will show you (mareh), is Moriah."

  • The second idea is that Moriah comes from the word to fear (yireh). Therefore, Moriah literally means fear of God (Yah). There is a Jewish midrash that says Moriah is the place from which the fear of the Lord emanated to the whole world.

  • The third idea is that Moriah comes from the root to teach (yarah). So it is related to teaching (torah). The sages note that Isaiah says the Torah will go forth from Jerusalem, the Word of the Lord from Zion.

We are told in 2 Chronicles 3:1 that "Solomon began to build the house of the LORD in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah." Mt. Moriah is associated, in Scripture and tradition, with the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. But it goes deeper; according to ancient Jewish understanding, the rock upon which the temple was built and around which the Holy of Holies was constructed was the very rock where Abraham bound Isaac.


All of this adds a depth of meaning as we study the story of Abraham, Isaac, and El Shaddai. And it enriches our reading of both Testaments from this point forward.

This study is from a professionally produced transcription of the audio recording. It was edited for readability by the team at JC Studies.

Dwight A. Pryor (1945-2011) was a gifted Bible teacher of exceptional clarity and depth who earned the friendship and admiration of both Christian and Jewish scholars—in the United States and Israel—as well as the respect and appreciation of followers of Jesus around the world. His expertise in the language, literature, and culture of Israel during the life and time of Jesus and the early church yield insights that nourish every area of faith and practice. Dwight founded JC Studies in 1984 to edify the people of God. Click here to explore his audio seminars.


Updated: Dec 18, 2020

Series: Abraham, Isaac, and El Shaddai


I want to take you on a trip through Genesis 22. Our goal is to experience this familiar scripture in fresh new ways by utilizing two points-of-view.  

  • First, by examining the text verse-by-verse, we will seek to shed some light on the Hebraic setting (the Jewish background) to the story.

  • And second, by exploring some of the implications of this text as it is viewed in the NT, we will seek spiritual principles that you and I can derive and apply for our growth in faith.

After all, Abraham is as Paul reminds us, our father—the father of the faithful, "Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham" (Gal 3:7). He has much to teach us as we witness what it means to stand in awe of and live faithfully to our great God.


The sequence of events in Genesis 22 can be viewed in six moves:

  1. God tests Abraham (22:1-2)

  2. Abraham responds to the test (22:3-10)

  3. God acknowledges Abraham as a God-fearing man (22:11-12)

  4. And provides a substitutionary ram for Isaac (22:13)

  5. Abraham names this place and the altar he has made there (22:14)

  6. God pledges to bless Abraham and prosper the promises he has made to him (22: 15-18)

This is the arc and the dynamics of the story. It is so important on so many levels that it has been examined down to the most minute detail in both Jewish and Christian traditions. Both agree it is the quintessential story of one being asked to surrender all to a trustworthy and true God.


Immediately we are drawn into the telling, "After these things God tested Abraham" (1:1). The first item of interest is the lack of standard syntax in the biblical Hebrew. The subject here is placed before the verb. Why? To focus our attention on God, the subject of the story. And rather than the normal word for God (Elohim), the text says "the God" (ha Elohim). Interesting.


Who is this God doing this test?


It is The One who has been persistently pursuing and revealing himself to Abraham since Genesis 12. It is The One who delivered on his promise by supernaturally giving him a son, Isaac. This is not just any God; this is The God. And he is putting his favored one to the test.


As readers of the narrative, we are informed that this is a test; God will not require Abraham to slaughter his son. But Abraham does not know that. The direction he is about to hear is unimaginable. Suddenly and shockingly, he is tested by The One whom he knows intimately, by revelation, as El Shaddai.


We must pause here and address two questions, biblically.


(1) What is a test?

(2) What distinguishes between a test and a temptation?


The word for test here (nissah) describes being placed into a position forcing a choice between God's will on the one hand and your natural inclination or understanding on the other.


Jewish tradition maintains that God tests the righteous, not the wicked.


He tests those he knows are capable of doing his will, not the wicked who will disobey his will. For Abraham, this is a test, not a temptation. Listen to James—the very Jewish author of the book bearing his name—make this subtle yet significant distinction.


"Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness." - James 1:2-3


"Let no one say when he is tempted, 'I am being tempted by God,' for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one." - James 1:13


What is it that tempts us and leads us astray?


His answer in the next verse echoes the Jewish understanding of the evil inclination (yetzer hara). "But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire." That which tempts us is our inclination to be selfish, be self-centered, go our way, and do our own thing.


There is a Jewish commentary (midrash) that says the word for test (nissah) is related to the word for banner or standard (nes). In other words, in his testing, God is actually elevating, exalting someone. He brings forth from their character what was potential and is made actual by the test. It is not to punish but to prosper. The test is done first of all for the benefit of the tested, and second as an example for others.


God's test of Abraham is not a temptation but an elevation.


The issue here is not the outcome. God has foreknowledge; the end was not in doubt. No, the issue here is El Shaddai wants Abraham to concretely demonstrate his utter loyalty and commitment to him, apart from any rewards and apart from any promises—solely because he stands in awe of The God. Remember, it is for the benefit of Abraham and all of us who learn from his example.


Because testing strengthens character, God's test makes actual in us what is potential; and because we demonstrate faith, it creates the opportunity for God to reward us based on our deeds.


In biblical tradition, man's highest spiritual goal is to accept divine wisdom as the ultimate truth. This is something the world does not understand. A recent report from the Barna Group documented how American males are one of the most pagan subcultures in the world; very few of them believed that there is an absolute truth.


Wisdom is the conviction that God is the sole source of truth, indeed of our very existence. In a time of testing, we can come into a greater understanding of God's wisdom as we respond to him by acknowledging his ways.


But this is not some abstract apprehension of theological truth; this is flesh and blood application and obedience to God's Word. Wisdom comes in doing.


In Yeshua's Jewish culture, studying God's Word was the highest form of worship, humility was the supreme virtue, and faithfulness was the ultimate response. And so it is for disciples of Jesus. We are engaged in a walk with God; it is not a one-time event but a day-by-day process. As we walk in obedience, we come into an increasing revelation of God as our sole source of wisdom, truth, and life.

This study is from a professionally produced transcription of the audio recording. It was edited for readability by the team at JC Studies.

Dwight A. Pryor (1945-2011) was a gifted Bible teacher of exceptional clarity and depth who earned the friendship and admiration of both Christian and Jewish scholars—in the United States and Israel—as well as the respect and appreciation of followers of Jesus around the world. His expertise in the language, literature, and culture of Israel during the life and time of Jesus and the early church yield insights that nourish every area of faith and practice. Dwight founded JC Studies in 1984 to edify the people of God. Click here to explore his audio seminars.


Updated: Dec 18, 2020

Series: Sojourning With a Sukkah Consciousness


Before discussing my third principle of what it might mean to live in and sojourn with a sukkah consciousness, I want to return to John 7 and 8. Not only did Jesus make his messianic proclamation during the living water ceremony in the temple, but he made another the very next day.


The other key symbol of the Temple liturgy during Sukkot was the burning of torches. Four great menorahs between 70 and 100 feet tall were constructed, illuminating the whole city of Jerusalem. At the end of the eighth day, the mighty menorahs were extinguished. Now that the lamps are out on the temple mount, Jesus says,


"I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." ~ John 8:12


The Fall feast cycle is a unique and memorable time of year for us as disciples of Jesus. Our study's guiding image is the booth (sukkah), which represents the children of Israel dwelling in the wilderness. What do we learn by moving out into a temporary dwelling during this season of our rejoicing?


To sojourn with a sukkah-consciousness requires that:


First, we must confront the insecurity of our freedom. (Read Freedom to Grow)


Second, we must let go of those things which seem secure to grab ahold of total dependence upon God. (Read Challenging Illusions of Security)


Third, we must exercise discernment between the vanity and value of materialism.


The scroll of Ecclesiastes is read on the Sabbath that falls during Tabernacles. How curious that this text is chosen during the celebration of God's abundant provision evidenced in material prosperity. "Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?"


And yet, the Preacher (Koheleth) teaches another lesson. I think it is particularly telling how we read right by it, without discernment. The lesson is that this world is also a place to be enjoyed: it is a place to drink, to be merry, to have fellowship. But—and this is the heart of the message—it is only God who can give you the gift to enjoy this material world truly.

The way to appreciate the gift of life is to live under the Son rather than merely under the sun.

I believe this is a powerful corrective to much of historical Christianity's tendency toward an ascetic, other-worldly view of life. Sukkot says this is a time for rejoicing. Enjoy the taste of food and drink like never before, "and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God seven days."


You fasted on Yom Kippur—you denied yourself food, drink, and sexual relations. Now it is time to enjoy life as never before. As you recognize that life is fragile, it has become even more valuable to you. It is God, the source of every good gift that enables you to enjoy life.

Most Christians believe that fasting is a far more spiritual activity than feasting.

Sukkot says they both have their place under God's kingship and care. The repentance associated with Yom Kippur is essential, but only as it leads to Sukkot, the feast of rejoicing!


That is the paradox of Sukkot. We forgo comfort and convenience for seven days in a flimsy structure to be reminded that we have no prosperity apart from God. And yet, at the same time, we are reminded that we do prosper because of God.


Sukkot is the season to renew your appreciation for material prosperity. Now is the time to be thankful for your family, jobs, income, homes, and for every good thing that God has provided. A balanced, biblical discernment is what is need here.


On the one hand, we need to guard against the subtleness of idolatry surrounding material prosperity. On the other hand, it is right and good to have a materialistic dimension to our faith—properly understood.


Asceticism is not the way of biblical faith. The Word of God affirms life and reminds us that there is a time to celebrate divine provision. It also teaches us to use material wealth as an opportunity to both meet personal needs and to care for others.


According to Israel's sages, one indication that you have the right relationship with your material prosperity is your generosity towards the needy. Do you have an evil eye? Asks Jesus. Are you miserly, stingy, covetous? Then you are serving Mammon. Or do you have a good eye, characterized by giving to and caring for those in need? Then you have discerned that material possessions are a gift from God, and it is a steward's duty and delight to share.

We cannot love life if we do not live it well. We will not live life well until we love it as God intends.

The powerful prophet Zechariah declares something about the Feast that transcends where we are now by looking to the future, the great King's return to reign over a transformed world. Sukkot has eschatological implications for, "the LORD will be king over all the earth. On that day the LORD will be one and his name one." (14:9)


When the LORD comes back to rule and reign from the new Jerusalem, we will go up, together with faithful Israel, to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles. There will no longer be a need for Passover (it is finished) or Pentecost (it is fulfilled), but there will be a continuing place for the rejoicing attending the Feast of Tabernacles.


Such rejoicing there will be on that great day of the Lord!


Yet even now, we are offered a foretaste. Today we are invited to praise, worship, and be altogether joyful in the presence of the LORD. The Passover work of crucifixion and resurrection is complete. The Pentecost work of temple building and indwelling is fulfilled. Now is the time for the Tabernacle work of celebration.


The King is in our midst. "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!"

This study is from a professionally produced transcription of the audio recording. It was edited for readability by the team at JC Studies.

Dwight A. Pryor (1945-2011) was a gifted Bible teacher of exceptional clarity and depth who earned the friendship and admiration of both Christian and Jewish scholars—in the United States and Israel—as well as the respect and appreciation of followers of Jesus around the world. His expertise in the language, literature, and culture of Israel during the life and time of Jesus and the early church yield insights that nourish every area of faith and practice. Dwight founded JC Studies in 1984 to edify the people of God. Click here to explore his audio seminars.

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